On Making a Monumental Anthology: Interview with OlgaZ

GAME, a 2018 anthology published by Wild Things Press, is a tremendous accomplishment. At 260 pages, it’s the largest anthology of Chinese comics published since SC5 in 2012. But it’s not the heft of the book that makes it so impressive: The work contributed by the 24 cartoonists who appear in the book is truly outstanding, ranging from crafted, tightly plotted stories to sprawling, experimental works. Even for those of us following the indie comics community in China, there were some surprising works by lesser known cartoonists, and the overall production quality makes this volume a delight to own.

Wild Things Press, the publisher/bookstore that put out GAME, closed its doors shortly before the book was finished. Its lead architect, OlgaZ now runs a new publisher, O.Q. I spoke to OlgaZ about the process behind GAME and the closing of Wild Things Press. 

R. Orion Martin: You’ve been working on this book for some time, correct? Tell me about the process of publishing it.

OlgaZ: We sent out the open call for the anthology on January 16th, 2018, with a cutoff deadline of April 4th. But because of the editorial work, including decisions to do some alterations to the works, we didn’t have all of the submissions until the end of June. We got the digital proofs in August, and the final printed version in September. So from the open call to printing, it took nine months.

 

ROM: In addition to the open call, did you reach out to cartoonists individually?

OlgaZ: Yes, we also asked a few cartoonists whose work we like.

ROM: Were there any works that surprised you when the authors sent them in?

OlgaZ: Ganmu’s work stood out. All of the cartoonists whose work I was familiar with submitted excellent, fully developed comics — no surprises there. But as soon as I saw Ganmu’s work, I had to go back and read it over and over, it was something truly unexpected. Ganmu is a cartoonist whose work is rich with a certain quality unique to Chinese cartoonists, and her contribution to GAME is no exception. Due to the slow development of Chinese comics, there have always been traces of other comics communities mixed into the work of domestic artists, but Ganmu seems to have developed her own narrative framework, a unique comics language that is difficult to imitate. Her combinations of story and visuals are always ingenious.

ROM: There is such a huge range of styles in this anthology, from traditional comics to abstract comics, to Xiang Yata’s comic, which is literally a game the author plays, a comic made out of connect-the-dots drawings. How do you feel about the outcome, and the synergy of these works together?

OlgaZ: In my mind, this book is an incremental work. It’s not the most outstanding anthology of comics put out in China, but this was the best book that we could make at this moment. We are devoted to spreading independent comics and introducing people to the diversity of work out there, so we gave the cartoonists a lot of room to work in. We were also very grateful that some of the more seasoned cartoonists undertook bold experiments for this book. One example is Xiang Yata, who sacrificed the identifiable markers of her work to try something new.

ROM: What makes a good comic?

OlgaZ: We have recently been discussing what the most important aspect of independent comics is, and we ultimately came to the conclusion that it is the literary nature (wenxuexing) of the work. We chose this word as a standard that is more inclusive than just the narrative (xushixing) of a work. Once a comic establishes a robust language of expression, it can use this language to create a story, characters, a mood, or all of the above. Comics is a multimedia art, so strictly confining it to a vehicle for narrative narrows the medium and negates the power of experimental work.

ROM: This is the first book I’ve seen that features work by younger cartoonists such as yourself and gantea alongside work by longtime indie cartoonists Ganmu and Zuo Ma. Have you been in contact before or was this the first time you got to know them?

OlgaZ: When I finished my undergraduate studies in England and returned to China, I gradually discovered the work of domestic cartoonists, including those from the older generation like Zuo Ma. I didn’t come to comics until recently. I was a sophomore when I began studying comics under the direction of Geoff Coupland and became interested in the medium. Like inflating a balloon, I began to read a huge number of comics from the United States and Europe. When I returned to China and found there were so many outstanding cartoonists working here, I was delighted. It gave me a boost of energy to continue.

ROM: Though you now run the publisher O.Q Press with Qiliq, this book is actually the final book put out by Wild Things Press, a publisher and bookstore which is now closing. Can you talk a little about that transition?

OlgaZ: Wild Things Press was a lonely endeavor, with many complicating factors. O.Q is much simpler, and I think that is a big improvement. Because I’m no longer under as much financial stress, I have more time to focus one what I want to, and more time to refine the books. I used to become very anxious if I couldn’t finish a book in two months. Now that I’m no longer managing the store, I don’t have to worry as much about constantly updating our social media accounts. Qiliq, my partner at O.Q, is a longtime friend, and there’s much more joy in the work now. When everything is settled, we plan to open a new space in Ningbo.

You can find more about O.Q Comics on their Instagram


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